Keep Your Horse Looking Their Best
Whether you own a single horse or manage a stable of horses, part of your responsibility is not only to keep horses healthy but also keep them looking their best. Usually a normal daily routine of grooming your horses and giving them a bath from time to time may be enough to keep them looking good, but it’s important to take certain steps to keep their skin healthy that goes beyond that of the normal grooming regimen.
There can be a range of different issues that can cause damage to your horse’s skin—from a change in their routine or diet, to an unknown illness, to an infestation of parasites or flying insects. These circumstances can bring about skin conditions that are not only uncomfortable for your horse but can be challenging to treat.
It pays to be proactive when it comes to your horse’s skin health as it is the largest organ and is an indicator of your horse’s overall well being. However, that doesn’t mean you have to invest in a large budget buying costly ointments or unproven gimmicks. In this list we will share with you a few simple measures to take that will protect your horse’s skin from daily grooming habits to external forces like insects, sun exposure and challenging levels of moisture.
Skin Care Tip #1: Protect Them From The Sun
Horses are healthiest (and happiest) when they spend time out in the open. Keeping them cooped up in stables can be detrimental to their well being by causing potential damage to their sensitive respiratory tract and depriving skin the chance to receive the benefits of limited sun exposure. They are animals after all and need to graze outdoors as much as possible to allow their skin to air out and gravity to work on the drainage system to help clear out any foreign particles and respiratory secretions. But if they are exposed to the sun for too long, much like us humans, there are some painful and potentially serious consequences.
Just like us, horses can be sunburned. Their skin will look inflamed, red and will feel tender when touched. You may notice pink skin under white markings. Things can get even worse when horses combine too much time out in the sun with eating certain types of common plants, like a painful ailment known as photosensitivity.
Photosensitivity takes place when a horse eats plants like St. John’s wort, buckwheat and other plants that have certain chemicals that are photodynamic. These chemicals move through the bloodstream and become activated when sunlight reaches them through areas of pink skin. The chemicals lead to a burning sensation on the horses skin via swelling and blisters.
A secondary form of photosensitivity occurs when the horses liver is affected via sickness, taking medications when ill, or ingesting toxic plants. In this phase, the horse will not be able to filter out photodynamic compounds from it’s bloodstream and the same swelling and blisters occur.
Overexposure to the sun can also lead to tumors called squamous cell carcinoma which are lump, swollen growths that develop on pink tender skin around the eyes or on the genitals. Without treatment these lumps grow larger and become difficult to get rid of.
Practical Steps To Take
To protect your horses, you have to take measures to lessen the chances of them suffering from photosensitivity. This can be done by ridding your grazing lands of photodynamic plants and similar plant weeds on your property. You can also check with a vet regarding medications your horse takes to see if there are any photosensitivity reactions which may occur and if so, ask for alternative medications
Creating areas outdoors where there is abundant shade can also help. This can be from planted trees or even a shed that horses can move into as they graze around. Anything that can keep them out of direct sunlight for too long.
Applying sunscreen can be another thing to consider for your horse. For example, a zinc oxide cream should be rubbed onto spots where your horse has pink or light colored skin which is most common around around the muzzle and eyes. While this can be messy applying onto a horse, they do provide great protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
A great and easy alternative is a UV protective fly mask or sheet that will cover your horse’s skin and may be a less messy option to take over sunscreen. Horses on full or partial turnout will benefit from the sun protection and can also alleviate the annoyance of face flies and biting insects. The only challenge will be to try to make sure the sun blocking gear stays on them and doesn’t slip off. Additionally, for fully pastured horses it’s important to check to make sure there is no interference between the masks and their sensitive eyes.
Skin Care Tip #2: Keep skin as dry as possible
While this may be easier said than done for a horse, skin that is wet or exposed to moisture for long periods of time can leave horses vulnerable to infections. A common problem that occurs from too much moisture is the growth of fungus that can lead to infection. When a horse grazes through wet grass or is left out in heavy rain, the skin can soften and the combination of moisture and warmth creates the perfect environment for fungus and bacteria to grow.
Scratch infections are often a combination of bacteria and fungi and can look unsightly and feel unpleasant for the horse. Scratches and resulting fungal infections can vary in severity from moderate discomfort to highly painful, bleeding welts. Commonly referred to rain rot, rain scald, or mud fever, the inflamed areas can differ in appearance from cracked, crusty skin, to dripping fluid scratches and complete loss of hair. It is not uncommon for a severe case of rain rot to cause swelling, heat and potential lameness if the pasterns, fetlocks, or cannon bones are infected. Rain rot can also develop along the horse’s back and withers, where rain tends to fall and run off the horse. These lesions and pustules can vary in severity depending on the length of the horse’s hair but commonly lead to hair loss and back soreness.
Practical Steps To Take
You can prevent scratches by keeping your paddocks or pastures as dry as possible when horses are out grazing. Address any drainage issues and clear puddles, especially in areas where horses gather. If you have to, put down gravel or heavy mats in muddy areas, especially in high traffic areas such as by the gate or near round bale feeders.
If you decide to blanket your horse in the winter months, make sure to buy a quality turnout sheet that is at least 1200 denier or higher. The higher the denier of your blanket, the more waterproof it will be as it refers to the thread count and how tightly the fabric is sewn together. If your horse develops a case of rain rot on their haunches, backs, or shoulders, make sure to regularly wash and disinfect their blankets. However, as the blankets threads will loosen with each wash, it’s important to retreat with a water repellent fabric protectant. In an active case of rain rot, it can also be helpful to apply baby powder or athletes foot spray to the underside of your blanket to absorb excess sweat or moisture and to keep the skin dry to allow for better healing. For older horses with weakened immune systems or extremely long coats, consider stalling them in inclement weather.
Lastly, if your horse is partially stalled at night or during the day, make sure to keep their bedding clean and dry by thoroughly removing urine soaked hay or shavings every day. Stalls should be regularly stripped every one to two weeks to completely remove urine as the buildup of ammonia can easily inflame a horse’s respiratory tract and irritate the skin if your horse decides to lay down. In all cases, it is easier and preferred by both horse and owner to prevent a full blown case of rain rot than it is to treat it through daily antibiotics, harsh medicated products, and several weeks of agonizing hair loss and healing.
Skin Care Tip #3: Don’t Share Grooming Tools Between Horses
It’s pretty common to use the same brushes and other grooming tools on multiple horses, however, this is also a surefire way to spread skin diseases. The same can occur with tack, such as blankets, saddle pads, and leg wraps if they are shared between horses.
One of the skin diseases which most often occurs due to sharing tools, tack and equipment between horses is ringworm. This fungal infection appears in the form of circular patches on the horse and degrades into small round bald spots of crusty skin that can be really itchy to the horse.
Practical Steps To Take
Regularly disinfect and sanitize horse grooming tools, even when there are no diseases present. Vacuum out dirt and soak grooming tools in a bleach/water mixture followed by letting the item dry out in the sun. This is a great way to kill any disease pathogens which may be present. Aside from this, don’t use the same tools on different horses. An entirely different set of tools should be bought and kept specifically for each horse. It may seem like a hassle, but by following these grooming tips you can avoid treating a barn full of horses with rain rot, ringworm, or something even worse.
The same route should be taken when it comes to tack. Every horse should ideally have their own bridles, saddle pads, blankets, leg wraps etc.
Skin Care Tip # 4: Protect Your Horse From Insects and Pests
When the temperature is warm, pests such as flies and mosquitoes become much more active and this can take a toll on your horse’s skin. Bites from mosquitoes or stable flies may seem like a minor annoyance at first for horses, but if there’s a sizable infestation around or if they are left untreated for extended periods of time, they can negatively impact your horse’s overall health and can lead to severe skin reactions.
A commonly known skin issue that afflicts horses in the summer months is a condition known as “sweet itch”. This is an allergic reaction brought on by the saliva of biting flies like horn flies, stable flies and small biting gnats and midges.
This condition is characterized by swollen, itchy welts that can be so irritating that a horse will desperately try to itch themselves raw. These swollen, oozing patches often develop at the base of the mane, above the dock of the tail and along the back.
Conditions like summer sores can also occur on the skin due to the transference of worms through its host such as biting face and stable flies. Summer sores can be difficult to treat and includes includes killing the internal parasites with proper worming and then addressing the topical infestation with the application of ivermectin or moxidectin directly to the sore.
While aesthetically, horses being bitten isn’t good for the skin, the threat of diseases that mosquitoes and flies bring is much more serious than bad looking skin, as it can make them severely sick (pigeon fever) or even die (west nile virus).
Practical Steps To Take
One of the best things you can do to protect your horses against flying insects is investing in a high quality fly spray insecticide. A combination of topical repellents and lethal premise sprays is your best bet in combating insect induced skin ailments.
Ready to use repellent sprays can be safely applied to your horse to keep biting insects at bay.
When choosing a fly spray, look for hard wearing claims such as sweat and weather resistant and long wearing protection that will keep your horse comfortable for several days at a time.
Traditional insecticides or natural alternatives (such as clove and cottonseed oil) can be sprayed to treat common areas such as pastures, stalls, barn isles and manure pits. You can also install an automatic fly spray dispensing system throughout your barn or set up traps which will capture a wide range of insect pests that could be plaguing your horses.
A non chemical spraying option is placing a fan near your horses and putting screens on windows and doors. Flies have a difficult time flying and being active when a fan is blowing, plus it can be very refreshing for a horse.
Fly sheets and masks are also helpful in protecting your horse’s skin from biting flies by creating a physical barrier between your horse and the insects. These will cover their backs, stomachs and other sensitive areas that insects target and will protect them from bouts of itchy bites on their skin.
Manure management is another crucial aspect to reduce the fly population in the area. Clear up manure regularly and dispose of it far away from where the horses are residing. For mosquito prevention, you will need to cut down on moisture problems around the area since mosquitoes mainly breed and reproduce over areas where there is standing water, particularly after it has rained.
A horse’s skin requires a lot of attention and not just for the sake of appearance. There’s many different threats that can damage a horse’s skin but many of these threats are absolutely preventable if you work to come up with a solid skin care plan that addresses those threats. There are many other factors that play a role in your horse’s coat and skin health such as good nutrition, regular worming, dental examinations and proper exercise, but by following the tips above, your horse’s skin will not only look great, but your horse will overall be healthier and happier.